A love and passion for animals along with a commitment to make a difference as a leader has propelled a Wisconsin youth to national heights.
Ashley Orr, Waupaca, found herself in the spotlight at the National FFA Convention as she was named the proficiency winner in the Diversified Livestock Production area.
"It was an experience that I will never forget," Orr remarked when she learned she had won. She continued, "I truly didn't believe it when my name was called. It was so nerve racking. The next thing I knew I was getting pulled onto the winners' platform to receive my plaque and get a picture and congratulations from Alicia Hodnik, a National FFA Officer from Wisconsin."
The winners of the Agricultural Proficiency Awards were announced at the convention, Oct. 26 in Indianapolis, IN.
The FFA's Agricultural Proficiency Awards honor members developed specialized skills through their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) that they can apply towards future careers.
The National FFA Organization's Agricultural Proficiency Awards program recognizes outstanding student achievement in agribusiness gained through establishment of a new business, working for an existing company, performing agriscience research or otherwise gaining hands-on career experience in 49 areas.
Orr's SAE centers around her family's sustainable rotational grazing farm, Graz-Orr Farm, N4340 Hwy 49, Waupaca. The farm consist of 12 steers, 75 sheep and 39 hogs rotationally grazed on 26 acres. The family sold their dairy cattle in 2002 to focus exclusively on their livestock operation.
Of that total, Orr's enterprise consists of 12 steers, along with 12 hogs, 48 market lambs, 28 crossbred ewes, five bred Dorper ewes, two Registered Dorper rams, 20 yearling Dorper crossbred ewes, 120 meat chickens, 35 laying hens, two donkeys and a miniature llama.
Her animal inventory has grown significantly over the past years due to her SAE contract with her parents, Dean and Michelle Orr. She explains she barters labor on the farm in exchange for animals, feed, housing and veterinarian needs at a rate of $4 per hour.
The oldest of seven siblings, Orr has acquired all her animals through bartering for labor, excluding the commercial ewes she purchases each spring.
According to this young livestock entrepreneur, owning three different species of livestock has served as an advantage to her because being diverse put her in a position to increase her opportunities of reaping a profit during sluggish markets. Along with the ownership of these animals comes the commitment of caring for them daily, which Orr carries out before and after school in addition to weekends.
Her main responsibilities include feeding, watering, bedding and fencing, as well as vaccinating.
According to the Diversified Livestock Production Award winner, the goal at Graz-Orr Farm is to have livestock graze on open pastures to minimize labor. The family feels grazing has resulted in reduced fertilization and equipment costs as well.
The livestock primarily spend time out in the fields, paddocks and wooded areas. A barn is utilized for sorting market animals, shearing sheep and observing new animals.
"The biggest thing I learned from my SAE was time management. By managing my time well, I was able to be an active member of my community, school, and church as well as continue to take care of the livestock and perform everyday chores. It is a great skill to have mastered," Orr shared.
Shares a love of marketing
It's the marketing aspect behind Graz-Orr Farm that really sparked Orr's interest in the business. She particularly enjoys being involved in the decision-making process and pricing of the products.
Orr and her mother market meat both at the farm and at farmers' markets.
"We're big on helping customers understand how their food is raised," Orr remarked. "My philosophy is to raise healthy, pasture-raised animals and provide a quality product to families," the national award winner added.
A freshman at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Orr learned so many different facets of the livestock industry. "I would see something new especially during lambing. I really liked being involved in all of the day-to-day operations. I also loved to talk with the customers and to give them tours of the farm."
Graz-Orr Pasture-Raised Meat Sales offers pasture-raised lamb by the half or whole; lamb is seasonal from November-April.
In addition, quality grass-fed beef can be bought in 25-pound convenience packs, one-quarter, one-half or a whole beef from September-January. Some pasture-raised pork is available in September and October.
The Waupaca High School 2012 salutatorian noted advertising is mainly accomplished via "word of mouth", but their products are also promoted on the following websites: Eatwild.com and Local Harvest.com.
Orr also noted Chez Marche Cafe in downtown Waupaca features their meats on their menu.
Another form of advertising is through their on-farm stand that is open May-October, offering garden produce, fall produce and meat.
The Orrs are in the process of organically certifying their pastures and lambs. For the time being they supplement with organic salt and minerals and use state-inspected processors to cut and wrap their final product.
Besides helping to manage the home farm, Orr also worked at Sunny View Dairy Farm in Waupaca, assisting with the milking of 160 Holsteins, and at Four Lanes Dairy Farm in Tomah, helping with feeding, bedding and milking cattle.
While employed at Trzebiatowski Farms in Waupaca during the summer of 2011, Orr gleaned experience as a pickle grader, which required her to stand on a line to sort the washed pickles.
"FFA" could be Orr's middle name as she has learned to balance her academics and FFA activities with her responsibilities on the farm.
The Waupaca High School graduate participated in almost every FFA activity possible, from serving as an FFA officer for three years, to attending conferences and conventions, to participating in speaking contests.
Her involvement in FFA has led to numerous accolades including Wisconsin FFA Star Farmer Finalist, Wisconsin FFA Degree recipient, Waupaca FFA Alumni Scholarship recipient, Waupaca FFA Honors Sash recipient, and FFA Star Greenhand recipient.
In addition to FFA, Orr is active in other professional associations such as the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Association, and the Wisconsin Grazing Association.
She was also a member of the National Honor Society and the Chain O' Lakes 4-H Club, where she served as president, vice president, treasurer and secretary.
Pursuing a career as a veterinary technician with an emphasis on ultrasound technology, Orr hopes to someday utilize her ultrasonography skills.
She also dreams of eventually owning her own farm where she can continue to raise meat products to fulfill customers' needs.
She credits her family, along with support from her two Waupaca FFA advisors, Jenifer Erb and Rene Lehman, for helping her attain her goal of standing on the National FFA stage.
Orr is quick to respond, however, "A better question to ask (regarding mentors) is who hasn't helped me along the way. I have learned something from everybody I met, although I would have to say my parents and Ms. Erb and Ms. Lehman have been especially helpful to me."
According to Erb, the Waupaca FFA had yielded three other national proficiency winners - Paul Eisentraut in Dairy Production in 1998, Amanda Beyer in Wildlife Management in 2000 and Devon Feldt, also in Wildlife Management in 2011. In all, she has helped mold 19 national proficiency finalists.
Erb explains a lot of time goes into preparing a student's SAE. For instance, she visits with the members and their employers or parents to discuss ways to improve students' performance. She also seeks out professional resources for students, as well as discusses avenues to enhance their programs.
Erb commented, "Summer visits is a key to our success because I have the time to spend with FFA members. Classroom instruction and FFA career development events are also ways I can impact my students' SAEs. FFA members also acquire leadership skills and SAE competencies when they attend leadership conferences and conventions, along with judging contests."
Erb believes there are five basic reasons Ashley Orr earned the National Diversified Livestock Proficiency - she has outstanding family support, she has been dedicated and shows passion to her SAE, she has undeniable work ethics, she's a knowledgeable and intelligent student, and she sets and strives to achieve her goals.